The bilateral series against Australia exposed a lot of weaknesses which were then promptly glossed over when the West Indies came visiting. That the West Indies were brushed aside by the Irish and that to win a World Cup, you need to beat teams like Australia -with the handicap of an albatross of past disappointments hanging heavily around your neck- doesn’t seem to have registered with many.
All the records that the South African batsmen plundered against the Caribbeans mean very little in the scheme of things. To win the World Cup in its present format, you need 3 consecutive wins against 3 different competitive sides in 3 high-pressure games. As I see it, Djokovic has a better chance of winning a Slam final in straight sets than the Proteas pulling this off.
Weakness no.1: Inability to chase down big totals.
Over the past 4 years, I can only recall a couple of occasions when the Proteas have managed to buck this trend. The game against India in the 2011 WC and a game against Australia in Harare when they chased down 327. No matter how “strong” the bowling attack is, teams should be prepared to chase down totals of 300 or more in this World Cup. I don’t see that mental fortitude in this outfit. Anyway, here’s a list of all the games the South Africans have batted second in over the past year:
New Zealand 331/8 (50/50 ov); South Africa 197 (44.2/50 ov)* L
Sri Lanka 279/7 (44.4/44.4 ov); South Africa 188/5 (24.3/25 ov, target: 188) W
West Indies 122 (33.4/50 ov); South Africa 124/1 (24.4/50 ov) W
Australia 329/5 (50/50 ov); South Africa 256 (44.3/50 ov)* L
Australia 154 (41.4/50 ov); South Africa 157/7 (27.4/50 ov) W
Australia 300/8 (50/50 ov); South Africa 268 (48.1/50 ov)* L
New Zealand 230 (45.1/50 ov); South Africa 236/4 (48.1/50 ov) W
Australia 217/9 (50/50 ov); South Africa 221/4 (40.5/50 ov) W
Australia 282/7 (50/50 ov); South Africa 220 (44/50 ov)* L
Australia 327/7 (50/50 ov); South Africa 328/3 (46.4/50 ov) W
Sri Lanka 267 (49.2/50 ov); South Africa 180 (38.1/50 ov)* L
As you can see, they’ve successfully overhauled a big total only once over the past 12 months, and that too in conditions far from Australia’s.
Weakness no.2: Fifth bowler or lack of
JP Duminy is the closest thing they have to be called an all-rounder (even Bangladesh have more accomplished all-rounders and better 5th bowling options). The idea is to get 10 overs between JP and Behardien, and there’s no contingency plan for if one of the top 4 has an off day. AB’s own ambitions of developing into the world’s best trundler were seriously hurt when de Kock picked up an injury and AB had to pick up the keeping gloves in the months leading up to the WC. New Zealand pulled off a neat move by picking Grant Elliot out of nowhere, the South Africans did the opposite by dropping Ryan Mclaren and sticking with Farhan Behardien. Speaking of Behardien…
Weakness no.3: The willingness to run… like headless chickens
So many batsmen in this side who in their eagerness to steal a single or strike (as in the case of Miller) will rob their team of many more. AB, Faf, Miller, Behardien, Steyn… this team has run-out written all over it. Worse, blokes like Behardien don’t even consider sacrificing themselves when involved in a mix-up.
Weakness no.4: The bowling.
How could I even dare suggest. Well, answer this then: why do Imran Tahir’s 10 overs become the most crucial?
Morne has 1 good game in 10, Steyn has 1 in 4. Philander is well, Philander. The 5th bowler, we’ve already discussed. Kyle Abbott is promising, Wayne Parnell is frightening.
Weakness no.5: Accelerating in the absence of AB, or lack of; Lower order, in general.
It’s patently unfair to be comparing the rates of acceleration with AB at the crease and without, but one would be well within one’s right to demand a scoring rate of at least 8- even in the absence of AB- in the final 10. The reality is they go at about 6, 5.7** to be exact- when playing the final 10 overs without AB. Miller is beginning to show signs of coming into his own though. A lot will hinge on what sort of performances South Africa can put up after losing their top 4.
And the less said about the batting of Philander, Steyn and Morne, the better. Pitch it short and they’ll swing themselves off their feet without making any sort of contact with the ball. They can’t even be relied upon to rotate the strike. Imagine requiring 30 off 24 with 4 wickets in hand. Now imagine crashing to a defeat. With South Africa, there are only going to be comfortable wins or comfortable wins punctuated by a needless hiccup- no last minute clutching of victory from the jaws of defeat.
Weakness no.6: Elements beyond their control; rain-shortened matches
Any rain-shortened game will require adjustment of game-plans and they don’t do that, it’s not their thing. Also, it’s no coincidence that the format they are most suited to is Tests and the least-suited to is T20s. They lost a T20 series to the West Indies only last month, remember. So the shorter a game is, the more out-of-depth they’ll become. (This weakness is a bit of a baloney, a bit of bs from my side. A competent editor would cut it out)
The series against Australia which they lost 4-1 is particularly enlightening for two reasons. One, for the conditions it was played in and two, for showing how overly-reliant they are on AB to up the scoring rate- and how unreliable an anchor of a chase AB himself is. He’s no Kohli, he tries a high-risk shot far more often and subsequently, sees his side home far less often. However, JP didn’t play that series against Australia. So, you’d have to take that into account too.
**- made up statistic, but this game is a good pointer: http://www.espncricinfo.com/south-africa-v-west-indies-2014-15/engine/match/722339.html (they made 33 off 45 before the heavens ran out of patience)
The point I am making is when they do eventually crash out, it’s not going to be because it’s the World Cup and they’re South Africa but because they are a team that doesn’t have all the bases covered.
In all honesty, they had a fantastic 2014 before the tour to Australia. They won bilateral ODI series in both New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and defeated Australia in a trilateral final in Zimbabwe.